Let us consider the human capacity to use spoken language. For the large majority of individuals, language develops with an astonishingly consistent pattern. The categories of the sounds perceived and the lexicon used depend upon the linguistic environment in which the child grows. Once the individual becomes an adult, the language and dialect acquired tend to be remarkably stable. The plasticity necessary for their acquisition needs robust rules and the robust result depends upon the plasticity of the individual. The interaction between different developmental process types is evident. The crucial element in the development of individual phenotypic differences, both those that are immediately visible as altered development paths and those revealed by a difference in response to environmental stress agents later on in life, is the variation in the context-specific expression of genes, more than in gene sequence variation.
This does not mean that differences between individuals in the sequences of particular genes do not contribute to phenotypic differences, but rather that individuals with identical genotypes can diverge in phenotype if they live separate environmental experiences that alter basal gene expression in a differential and potentially permanent or contextually contingent way. The fact that the development of an individual is conditional highlights the need to understand the developmental processes that underpin these successive interactions - the study of epigenetics. As for what concerns human health, the relationship between ecology and individual characteristics is fundamental. The structure inherent in development requires that many crucial steps in an ontogenetic path be taken in the first phases of life.
The implication for human beings, with their prolonged development, is that future condition evaluations must be made by the mother. She determines the future development trajectory of her child. If ecological conditions experienced by the mother at the beginning of the life of her child are more or less the same as those he will find as an adult, then extrapolation from the present to the future will be adaptive. If they are different, however, the health of the child might suffer from it. Bateson and Gluckman believe that that union between evolutionary and ecological thought has a strong impact on the understanding of differences between individuals and on the enhancement of human wellbeing.
Plasticità, robustezza, sviluppo ed evoluzione is part of “International Lectures on Nature and Human Ecology”, a series of publications that offers the possibility to get a deeper understanding of the system of relations that ties Man to Nature, with the contribution of scientists, naturalists and philosophers. Ever more evident is indeed the realisation that there is no evolution without nature, and it is exactly in the context of this new qualitative and probabilistic science that the value of nature sets itself as inescapable when contrasted with the rift created by chemical synthesis and genetic modification. The aim of this series is to give voice to the people at the forefront of these themes, in an international perspective. This to help us better understand the relationship between our species and the environment in which we live and thus to contribute to opening the way towards a different future from that which we can see on the horizon today.
- Sir Patrick Bateson FRS Etology Emeritus Professor at the University of Cambridge. Currently president of the London Zoological Society, he was the Biological Secretary and Vice President of the Royal Society. He has been studying for a long time behavioural development and evolutionary theory
- Sir Peter Gluckman FRS is probably the most influential biomedical scientist in New Zealand. Distinguished Professor at the University of Auckland, he is head of the Centre for Human Evolution, Adaptation and Diseases and has directed the Liggins Institute for Medical Research. The most part of his recent research activity is centred on developmental plasticity and its relationship with human health.
The volume Plasticità, robustezza, sviluppo ed evoluzione, is accompanied and embellished by images of the sculptures of Emily Young, FRBS, an internationally acclaimed sculptor, who creates impressive and complex hand-chiselled pieces. Born in London, she grew up in the English capital, in Rome and in Wiltshire. In her youth, in the Sixties and Seventies, she travelled a lot, living in the United States, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, France and Italy and visiting Africa, South America and the Middle East. In the Seventies and Eighties, she collaborated with Simon Jeffes of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra. What guides her work as a sculptor is above all her desire to show the natural beauty within the physical history of each block of stone. This approach allows people viewing her art to strongly perceive the materials and the history of the planet that we all share. In addition to demonstrating a traditional sculpting ability, the works thus acquire a rare and poetic presence, contemporary and ancient at the same time. The sculptures of Emily Young are part of important public and private collection around the world.